Georgia Tech football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Yellow Jackets, best players and season prediction.
What You Need to Know About the Georgia Tech Offense
The 2015 offense was doomed before the season even began, saddled with injuries that hit the backs and the linemen particularly hard.
The backs are healthy and in a much better position to ignite the rushing attack out of the triple-option. The line, though, remains a glaring question mark that could keep the Yellow Jackets from fully turning the corner in 2016. There were all kinds of reasons the attack was a shell of its former self, but an inability to win the line of scrimmage was the primary one.
Surrounding steady C Freddie Burden will be unproven troops, like LT Eason Fromayan, RT Trey Klock and massive RG Shamire Devine. If the blockers happen to surprise in the fall, the ground game is in store for a major uptick back to its usual output levels.
Talented QB Justin Thomas returns for his third year as the starter, determined to erase the memory of last season’s inconsistencies. And his complements in the backfield, namely B-back Marcus Marshall and A-backs Clinton Lynch and Isiah Willis, are poised to erupt with an increase in touches. As a rookie, Lynch averaged almost 10 yards a carry and caught three touchdown passes.
Biggest Key To The Georgia Tech Offense
Oh-line! The offensive line, long a bedrock unit on the Flats, hit rock bottom in 2015. And a swift rebound isn’t looking likely. In fact, this is the dark cloud hanging above the rest of an attack that ought to be vastly improved in the backfield. Freddie Burden is the anchor at center. But otherwise, the group is facing far more questions than answers, as well as a depth worry. Will Bryan has been moved from tackle to left guard, while the staff needs RG Shamire Devine to finally maintain his weight. If the line can’t elevate from last year, the potential of the ground game is again going to suffer.
What You Need to Know About the Georgia Tech Defense
The Jackets have been a middling defensive squad throughout Paul Johnson’s tenure. Rarely awful, but not the kind of group that spearheads wins for the program. And now that DT Adam Gotsis is a Denver Bronco, Tech doesn’t have a single elite defender screaming out for preseason All-ACC attention. Even the unit’s top player, LB P.J. Davis, is an undersized performer who can get exposed at times.
Still, the linebackers are the strength of an otherwise middling D. Junior Chase Alford is scrappy and sophomore Brant Mitchell showed nice flashes in his rookie debut.
It’s on the first and last lines of the defenses that the Jackets will have their biggest issues. The pass rush was anemic in 2015, so it’ll be up to veterans KeShun Freeman and Rod Rook-Chungong and JUCO transfer Desmond Branch to provide cover for a defensive backfield that lost four senior starters to graduations.
Competition for jobs on the back end will be intense this summer, with returning letterwinners Lance Austin and Step Durham looking to hold off USC transfer Lamont Simmons at cornerback.
Biggest Key To The Georgia Tech Defense
Branching out. If you can pressure the pocket, you’re going to have a job with the Yellow Jackets, who produced just 14 sacks a year ago. Newcomers will compete for snaps immediately, headlined by Trinity Valley (Tex.) Community College transfer Desmond Branch. The 6-3, 270-pounder from New Mexico got his feet wet in the spring, displaying good effort and quickness. While Branch is currently behind Rod Rook-Chungong at strongside end, he’ll be a prominent part of the rotation in the fall.
Georgia Tech Will Be Much Better If …
the running game rebounds from the worst season in Paul Johnson’s eight years. Yeah, the Jackets once again led the ACC in rushing, but their production was down considerably from 2014, the result of a depleted backfield and poor blocking. And when Georgia Tech averages fewer yards per carry and struggles badly on third downs, the entire program’s blueprint for success is vaporized. To be successful, Tech needs to dominate at the line of scrimmage and wear down opposing defenses.
Best Offensive Player
Senior QB Justin Thomas. There’s no sugarcoating the reality—last year was a rough one for Thomas, who tried to do too much and turned the ball over too frequently. But it’s also fair to note that he was surrounded by a subpar cast of teammates that were downgraded by a slew of injuries to the backs and linemen. Thomas is still the conductor of the Yellow Jacket triple-option orchestra. And he’s still the undisputed MVP of an offense that relies so heavily on his ability to make the plays and the quick decisions that make this system so difficult to defend.
Best Defensive Player
Senior LB P.J. Davis. In the case of Davis, size doesn’t matter. He doesn’t fit the prototype at a shade under 6-0, but he plays with the range and the intensity to ensure that’s he’s never far from the ball. Davis also has excellent instincts, the byproduct of two full seasons as a starter for the Yellow Jackets. While Tech is facing a lot of uncertainty on defense, No. 40 is one of the few players the staff knows is going to bring it, week-in and week-out.
Key Player to a Successful Season
Junior OG Shamire Devine. In reality, the Yellow Jackets need the entire O-line to step up this season and create more space for QB Justin Thomas and backs Marcus Marshall, Clinton Lynch and Isiah Willis. But Devine is a 6-7, 386-pound microcosm, ironically enough, for a unit that failed to carry its weight in 2015. He needs to improve his overall conditioning, reduce his weight and emerge as a pile-driver next to OT Trey Klock on the right side of the offensive line.
The Season Will Be a Success If …
the Yellow Jackets bounce back with seven regular victories to guarantee a winning season. This is not a great Tech team, and there are important holes that must be patched up on both lines. But there’s a talented senior quarterback, Justin Thomas, who’s going to get much more help from the B-backs and A-backs than he had a year ago. Plus, the schedule sets up well for a rebound, including just one true road game before Nov. 5.
Sept. 3 vs. Boston College. Every team wants to get off to a fast start. But that’s especially applicable to Georgia Tech, which is riding a four-game losing streak and is hungry for a rebound campaign after going 3-9 a season ago. In fact, both struggling programs will view this trip to Dublin, Ireland as a borderline must-win opener, so the fans at Aviva Stadium will enjoy two teams operating with maximum intensity and a sense of urgency.
2015 Fun Stats
– Rushing yards per game: Georgia Tech 256.2 – Opponents 165.1
– Yards per catch: Georgia Tech 18.0 – Opponents 12.1
– Red-zone touchdown%: Georgia Tech 76% – Opponents 57%